Sunday, February 9, 2014

How evil should I be to my intro-to-lit students?

They have a midterm on poetry terms coming up, as well as a close reading poetry analysis. I added this test in here so I would have less weight on the final, and also to smack the students upside their heads a little while still very early in the semester ---- thinking that this might change their studying behaviors for the better, without scaring them from the class entirely.

Now of course I am going back and forth on evil-ness, being as indecisive as usual. Last week we had a day with activities that went, of course, horribly, because not only had they not done the reading, they didn't listen to the directions I gave them (willfully, perhaps) when I tried on the fly to re-vamp the exercise to avoid their unpreparednes and many of the groups ended up doing an analysis of the encyclopedia article summarizing the myth we were looking at instead of the poems re-interpreting it. Argh.

But on the other hand they are all turning in their homework regularly and it is starting to sound, almost in spite of themselves, like literary analysis. And some of them have great insights or patches of great insights in their homework, so some of them might be slacking more because the class is too easy than too hard. It is, as always, hard to tell.

Anyway, I could collect their essays and jump right into the next literary genre, handing out the short piece I usually discuss at the beginning of the semester, or I could do a poetry terms review day for the midterm. We only have 50 minutes, so I don't think we have time for both.

I haven't even decided on the format of the midterm, which could be fill-ins or matching or identifying material from sample poems or pretty much anything, I don't know. My group last semester really freaked out about the final and I came in 1/2 an hour early to find them in groups, studying their little hearts out, with notes and diagrams strewn everywhere and some of them reading the literary terminology passages I had assigned for the first time, I'm sure. I'd love to scare them into that state of being earlier in the semester than the final, and hopefully get them in the habit of reading and studying. I say that but now am at the stage in the semester where I don't feel like doing it or grading it.

Of course, recall of terms isn't really the same as analysis or synthesis, and I am seeing in the homework the same old problem of people trying to figure out bits of the formal qualities and some summary of the poem but no idea of how to put the two together. And maybe it would be better to do the midterm before the paper next time, to push them into learning the terms and then applying them? Hmm.

Any thoughts? Should I take a poll on evil vs. non-evil? Anybody got any good midterm torture ideas? I guess you could make a case for clemency too.


Flavia said...

I make students learn a bunch of poetic terms--maybe fifteen? not many more, anyway--which I give them typed out on a sheet in class and expect them to fill out in the course of our initial discussion, though they can always ask for a refresher. And we use those terms in class as we analyze poems over the next week or two. So I don't think it's asking too much for them to then memorize those definitions for a brief exam! (I don't do it as a midterm, but usually make it count as something like 5% of their grade and have another later terminological exam that's another 5%)

As for format, I usually randomly select some terms for them to define in words, and then I also provide a short poem and ask them to identify instances of a few other terms on the poem itself (they can circle or narrate, depending). I'll sometimes ask them to scan a line, and I'll usually ask them to choose one instance of a term they identified to tell me more about (e.g., if they've identified a spondee, say what that does in that particular place: why is the speaker hitting those syllables/words so hard there? how does it fit with the rest of the poem?). And I offer a little extra credit.

It should be a totally doable exam. And those who bomb...well, they've learned what they need to know to study next time! (Depending on your students and the structure of your course, I suppose this could serve as a kind of preliminary exam or quiz, some weeks before their actual midterm or final exam, which contains a terminology component--or if a bunch screw up, you could always declare after the fact that you'll offer a second terminology exam in a week, and allow them to use the higher grade, or average them, or something like that.)

Jodi A. Campbell said...

In both of my survey courses, I've moved to two exams during the semester and a final. It's a lot of grading, yes, but I found students just having complete meltdowns with only a midterm and a final. (In fairness, I'd have had a meltdown, too, if I had a midterm that covered U.S. history from Reconstruction through both World Wars.) Plus, the first exam gets them to start reading and studying earlier in the semester. A lot of students usually fail the first exam because they haven't been doing the work they've needed to all along, but the second exam is normally much better, as is the final. I also weight the first two exams less than the final, so the first one doesn't ruin their chances at a good grade.

Susan said...

I like Flavia's structure, though it's too late for this now this semester. But I just want to weigh in on not thinking of a midterm as "evil". I've been intrigued by research that says frequent tests and quizzes help student learn. Now that may be more science oriented, but I suspect it helps humanities students too.

Anonymous said...

It's great to know I'm not alone! I'm nearly finished grading a US history survey midterm at this moment, which the majority of students have bombed. Between Cog's post and these great comments, I now feel like I have a sort of strategy for the rest of the semester. I really like the suggestion for a second quiz and then averaging the two. Thanks, gang!